Recipes for Success: Chef Jason Atherton , founder of AlUla’s Maraya Social, offers advice for amateur cooks

Recipes for Success: Chef Jason Atherton , founder of AlUla’s Maraya Social, offers advice for amateur cooks
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Updated 16 November 2023
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Recipes for Success: Chef Jason Atherton , founder of AlUla’s Maraya Social, offers advice for amateur cooks

Recipes for Success: Chef Jason Atherton , founder of AlUla’s Maraya Social, offers advice for amateur cooks
  • The British celebrity chef recently opened the doors to the uber exclusive Row on 45 venue in Dubai

DUBAI: British celebrity chef Jason Atherton, founder-owner of multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, is no stranger to the Middle East. He recently opened his uber-exclusive Row on 45 restaurant at the Grosvenor House in Dubai, having launched City Social there earlier this year. Atherton is one of the most sought-after names in the food industry and calls himself “a total Dubai guy,” having met his wife in the city many years ago.  

Given his love for the region, it’s no surprise that the chef also has an establishment in Saudi Arabia: Maraya Social in AlUla.   

“It was in the middle of COVID, and we got asked by the Royal Commission of AlUla if we would like to put a restaurant in the middle of the desert on top of a mirrored building. And you go, ‘Well, sometimes in life, you just got to take a gamble.’ There was no point doing market research because there were no restaurants around there. So we took a gamble on whether anybody would even turn up in the middle of the desert. And they do! It’s amazing. It’s so busy. It’s crazy,” Atherton told Arab News.  

Here, Atherton discusses tardy guests, his love of a Sunday roast, and his top tip for amateur chefs.  

When you started out what was the most common mistake you made?  

Rushing around too much trying to look busy. It’s a big mistake most young chefs make. Rather than being calm, calculated and efficient, young chefs tend to run around like a lunatic. A bit like a three-year-old boy — way too much energy and not knowing what to do with it.  

What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?  

One thing I’ve learned — and I’m 52 now — is that, no matter what discipline you’re taking up, when you’re starting out, keep it simple and stick to the basics. So, learn your disciplines properly, like pastry and sauce making. Everyone thinks that, if they scroll (through recipes and tutorials) for an hour, they’re going to be the next big sensation. But no one’s going to make you an amazing chef overnight, unfortunately. It just doesn’t happen.   

What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?  

It’s more about the quality of the ingredients. So, if you’re in the supermarket, don’t just say, ‘OK, I need tomatoes,’ and pick the ones on the top. You need to really touch the tomato. When you press it at the bottom, has it got a little bit of give? Can you actually start to smell the fruit? The skin should move just a tiny bit, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not right.   

When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food? Or are you able to relax and enjoy it?   

I have a very simple philosophy when I go out for dinner: I choose a restaurant based on the style of food I want to eat that particular evening and if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t go back. If I enjoy it, it goes on my list. And, you know, if I really enjoy it, then I take inspiration from it and make a few notes, take a few pictures. But I don’t critique it. It’s not for me to critique. I just think you’ll live a miserable existence if you go around judging yourself against everybody else.  

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home?  

I’ve taught the children to make pasta, so we’ve always got pasta drying out or lying around somewhere. My four-year-old is going through a big pasta stage at the moment, so I tend to cook a lot of it at home.  

What customer behavior most annoys you?  

I find it really unreasonable when they’re late and then demand the service is quick. I had a private room of guests come in the other night for a business dinner and the lady was probably one of the rudest people I’ve come across for a long time. She was very rude to the staff. I just think it’s totally unnecessary. I mean, we’re all human beings. If you want the service to be quick, just say and we’ll do our best. But if you’ve turned up an hour-and-a-half late in the middle of the busiest part of the night… Also, there’s other people in the world just as important as you — you’re a business person, doesn’t mean you’ve cured cancer or you’re a brain surgeon. So, chill out, right?  

What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?   

I like cooking a Sunday roast and taking my time. No rush. I remember my mum making Sunday roast when I was a young kid and she’d have, like, 20 pans on the go, you know? I’ve brought it down to two roasting tins and mashed potatoes on the side, because I like mashed potatoes. I get two hot pans on the stove, sear my meat, stick that in the oven, get a little bit of a browning going on, stick my roast potatoes around it. Then I get the other pan hot, add garlic, thyme, rosemary, chop all of my vegetables in and make sure that they’re pretty much all the same size, stick ’em in the oven, I’m done. Just waiting for the meat to be cooked. While it’s resting, I take the tray out, put it back on the stove. Put in a little bit of vinegar, take all the sediment off the bottom, pour in the Oxo cubes — yes, I do Oxo cubes, scrape all the sediment off again, pass it, reduce it, and I’m done. I like that process. I’m not under pressure from a customer who’s wondering where their food is, I’m just happily cooking along and then the kids really enjoy Sunday lunch.  

What are you like in the kitchen as a head chef?  

The hardest thing as a leader is making sure that when you’re trying to teach somebody a better way of doing something just to make the product better, they can take it as feedback. Some people are really good at that, some people are not — some people have their defense mechanisms go up. So, you’ve got to understand how to break that barrier down. Over the years, I’ve got pretty good at it. I always explain that it’s for the greater good. And, at the same time, I always say that even a young chef who’s only been cooking for two years can teach me things, because they’ve been around the kitchens, right? 


Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
Updated 28 February 2024
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Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
  • Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale celebrates work from around the world
  • Many pieces being shown for the first time in public

RIYADH: Work by several of the best artists from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province will be among the offerings at this year’s international Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh.

Among them is Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, who has been a force in the Saudi art world for many decades. He has also written several books on the subject, including his 2000 work, “The Journey of the Saudi Fine Arts Movement.”

At the exhibition, which has the theme “After Rain,” his series of ink drawings, titled “Palm, Bow and Fragments” (1990-91) is on show for the very first time.

Mohammad Al-Faraj. (Supplied)

Born in 1954 in Al-Ahsa, Al-Soliman told Arab News he created the collection during the Gulf War, more than 30 years ago, and that the paintings reflected the unfolding chaos that engulfed neighboring Kuwait.

“I lived with the side effects of the Kuwaiti conflict and its liberation. I started organically, I didn’t know it would become a series,” he said.

“I’ve always loved drawing since I was young, I would scribble daily, it is part of my life. At school, I was good at art only, nothing else.

Nabila Al-Bassam. (Supplied)

“Since 1970, I have been making art. And this series on display at the biennale — some in color, some not — I rolled them up and put them aside. This is the first time anyone has seen them displayed, even my family at home didn’t see this. The curators came to my studio and selected them,” he said.

Another Eastern Province artist whose work is on show is Nabila Al-Bassam, who founded the Arab Heritage Gallery in Alkhobar in 1979. She also is also showcasing previously unseen works at the event.

“I was invited to join the biennale and said yes because I am an artist and I have a lot of artwork and no one has seen it,” she told Arab News.

Armin Linke and Ahmed Mater. (Supplied)

“I have my own gallery. It was one of the first in the Kingdom and it’s still working, so I’m very happy about it. But I don’t really exhibit a lot of my own work, I exhibit other people: Saudi artists and others who draw about the Middle East.”

Al-Bassam is a mixed-media artist who uses traditional textile-making processes to produce and create multi-layered collages. She said she was delighted to be among the artists on show.

“What stood out to me at the biennale was the works of Saudi women artists, I really was surprised,” she said.

“I’ve seen many beautiful works. The installations, the hangings — very, very interesting, made out of metal and things like this. There’s a lot to be excited about. They were large works and they were new works, completely new, modern and a new way of thinking.”

Tara Aldughaither. (Supplied)

Several of the younger generation of Eastern Province artists are also exhibiting in Riyadh.

Among them is Tara Aldugaither, 34, who grew up in Dhahran and in 2020 founded Sawtasura — “voice of the image” — a community-based platform that collects and reimagines the musical histories of Arab women.

Another is Mohammad Al-Faraj, a 31-year-old from Al Ahsa whose work reflects his environment. His playful pieces regularly feature palm trees.

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is being held in the city’s JAX district and runs until May 24.


Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway

Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway
Updated 27 February 2024
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Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway

Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair, alongside British Moroccan star Nora Attal and Moroccan Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi, turned heads at a futuristic Missoni show in Milan before heading to Paris Fashion Week.

The Italian luxury fashion label’s runway showcased an abundance of printed designs featuring lines in various orientations over the weekend.

From horizontal stripes on flowing dresses to diagonal lines adorning tailored jackets and vertical stripes enhancing structured coats, the collection offered a diverse array of patterns. 

Her outfit comprised vertically striped tights, diagonal striped shorts and a printed cover-up. (Getty Images)

Each garment exemplified Missoni’s expertise in knitwear, with the interplay of lines adding depth and dimension to the pieces. 

Al-Zuhair, born in Paris to a French mother and Saudi father, made a striking statement in a black, white, and grey ensemble on the runway. Her outfit comprised vertically striped tights, diagonal striped shorts and a printed cover-up. 

The leggings were integrated into her shoes, adding a unique twist to her ensemble.

Completing the look, she adorned a headpiece that echoed the leggings and accessorized with brown and white shades.

El-Maslouhi captivated in a black-and-white dress featuring a short cape and a thigh-high slit. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, El-Maslouhi captivated in a black-and-white dress featuring a short cape and a thigh-high slit, elegantly paired with the same vertically striped tights worn by Al-Zuhair.

Attal also showed off a sophisticated black-and-white ensemble, wearing tailored trousers paired with a cropped fur coat.

In addition to the monochrome ensembles worn by all the aforementioned models, the Fall/Winter 2025 women’s collection showcased a burst of color without fixating on specific hues. From vibrant purple and pink to earthy brown, fiery orange, cool blue and every shade in between, the collection embraced a diverse spectrum of colors.

Attal also showed off a sophisticated black-and-white ensemble, wearing tailored trousers paired with a cropped fur coat. (Getty Images)

According to the brand’s website, the stripes symbolize “a new beginning” and intertwine “to create the drawings of the renowned (fashion) illustrator Brunetta (Mateldi).”

Al-Zuhair has made her mark on the fashion world by walking for an array of esteemed brands beyond Missoni. Her runway presence has been felt in shows for renowned fashion houses such as Maison Alaia, Brunello Cucinelli, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Giambattista Valli, Giorgio Armani, Elie Saab and many more. 

In addition to her runway appearances, Al-Zuhair has been featured in campaigns for various high-profile brands including Prada, Chanel and Carolina Herrera.

All three models will no doubt hit the runway at the ongoing edition of Paris Fashion Week, with past appearances suggesting they will walk for a clutch of high-end fashion houses during the event that wraps up on March 5.


Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week
Updated 27 February 2024
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Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

DUBAI: The first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week is set to kick off in May this year, with Aziz Ansari and Tom Segura announced as headliners for the inaugural event, to be held from May 18–26 at the Etihad Arena.

Ansari, who rose to fame for his role in “Parks and Recreation,” as well as his Emmy-winning Netflix show “Master of None,” will take to the stage on May 18.

US actor-writer Segura, one of the biggest names in the comedy business, will take the stage on May 25. He is best known for his Netflix specials “Ball Hog,” “Disgraceful,” “Mostly Stories” and “Completely Normal.” In July 2022, he released his New York Times bestselling book, ‘I’d Like To Play Alone, Please,” which was described as “laugh out loud funny” by Forbes. 

“We are thrilled to be a part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, the capital’s new annual celebration of joy and laughter, underscoring our commitment to presenting premier entertainment offerings to the vibrant community of Abu Dhabi,” said James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East.

“With an incredible line-up featuring some of the biggest names in the industry brought to the festival by Live Nation Middle East, Abu Dhabi Comedy Week will offer unforgettable experiences for comedy fans across the region. Having already established ourselves on the comedy circuit, hosting the biggest comedy show seen in the UAE last year, this is another incredible step in our live entertainment journey.”


Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US
Updated 26 February 2024
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Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US
  • Footage released on Archewell Foundation website at ‘evening of cooking and storytelling’
  • Event held with Mina’s List, which helped evacuate over 2,000 Afghans to US after Taliban takeover

LONDON: Footage has emerged of Meghan Markle, duchess of Sussex, cooking with a group of Afghan female refugees in the US.

The video, published on the website of her Archewell Foundation, shows her making traditional Afghan cuisine, including dumplings, with the 15 women.

The meeting, described as an “evening of cooking and storytelling,” took place on Feb. 10 in partnership with the Southern California Welcome Project, set up by the duchess in 2023, and Mina’s List, a New York-based organization that has worked with female Afghan activists and politicians since 2014.

Archewell said in a press release that the women shared “their personal stories” and discussed “the support they find from this intergenerational group of women.”

It added that in 2021, Mina’s List helped secure the evacuation of more than 2,000 Afghan women and their families from the country after it fell to the Taliban.

Subsequently, Mina’s List and Archewell “joined forces to provide community and support to these remarkable women as they begin to rebuild their lives in the US.”

Archewell said the Southern California Welcome Project is “a safe haven and inclusive environment for women who have recently resettled in the US from Afghanistan.”

It added that there are currently 11 Welcome Projects operating across the US, “designed to foster a sense of belonging through activities including sewing, art, hiking, swimming, photography, storytelling, and cooking.”

The foundation added: “By facilitating women-based programming, The Welcome Project also brings access to critical resources and opportunities that not only supports the women participating in The Welcome Project, but also improves the lives of those around them — their families and their communities.”


Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet
Updated 26 February 2024
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Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

DUBAI: US director A.V. Rockwell hit the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ red carpet in a look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab as she scooped up the award for best first feature for her movie “A Thousand and One.”

Rockwell’s green-hued gown hailed from the fashion label’s Resort 2024 collection and featured a dark-to-light green gradient color palette, a plunging neckline and a cape that was attached at the shoulders.

US director A.V. Rockwell hit the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ red carpet in a look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab. (Getty Images)

Rockwell’s film stars Teyana Taylor as a mother who kidnaps her six-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system. The film had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize.

Meanwhile, Celine Song’s quiet romance “Past Lives” won two of the biggest awards at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature and best director. Other big winners were Cord Jefferson’s comedic satire “American Fiction,” with Jeffrey Wright winning for lead performer; and Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” which won prizes for Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa, the Associated Press reported.

The 39th edition of the show was held Sunday in a beachside tent in Santa Monica, California, and streamed live on IMDb and Film Independent’s YouTube channels and X accounts.

“Thank you so much for letting me share what it feels like to be human, to love and be loved, and thank you for loving our film," Song said in accepting the directing prize, according to the Associated Press.

Her film was among the top nominated at the show, alongside “May December,” which won only one award (for Samy Burch's first screenplay) and “American Fiction,” which fared better.

Wright won for playing a frustrated author who becomes wildly successful by writing something he hates in “American Fiction.”

The Spirit Awards sit firmly within the larger Hollywood awards season, which culminates with the Oscars on March 10. But with a budget cap of $20 million for nominees, the show celebrates films that sometimes go unheralded, or at least under-nominated, at the bigger shows.

Last year, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” swept the Spirit Awards before going on to do the same at the Oscars. But this year, many top Oscar contenders — including “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” — would not have qualified.

Kaouther Ben Hania’s film “Four Daughters,” which is nominated for the corresponding Oscar, won best documentary. And Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” also nominated for best picture at the Oscars, won best international feature over “The Zone of Interest.”